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January 30, 2009

Future Shock

The Best at Being Young and an Oriole

by Kevin Goldstein

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What did I learn this winter? I learned that Baltimore catching prospect Matt Wieters is good. Well, wait a second, I already knew that, so how about, "really good"? Nope, the extra modifier just doesn't do it justice.

How about this: after looking at the performance, talking to the scouts, and seeing what our numbers people were able to uncover over the offseason, Matt Wieters is the best prospect in baseball, the best player on the Orioles right now, and quite possibly the best catcher in the game. And he's yet to play an inning in the big leagues.

No pressure, Matt.

Let's start with the basics. Wieters was the top position player available in the 2007 draft. That said, everyone knew he would drop a bit due to the selection of Scott Boras as his representative, and the bonus demands that come with it. The first surprise came when the normally budget-conscious Orioles selected him with the fifth overall pick that June. The second was when they handed him a then-record $6 million as an up-front bonus. He signed too late to make his pro debut other than a rusty six weeks in the now-defunct Hawaii Winter League, where he still got glowing reviews from the few scouts who saw him there.

With all eyes on him during his official pro debut last spring, he slugged two home runs in his first game of the year for High-A Frederick, and never looked back. He hit .345/.448/.576 in a half-season for Frederick before the Orioles did a favor to the pitchers of the Carolina League and moved him up to Double-A. The jump from A-ball to Double-A is the second-hardest adjustment a player makes when scaling the ladder on their way up through the minors, second only to the ascent to the big leagues; instead of struggling, Wieters was even better, batting .365/.460/.625 against more advanced competition. With enough at-bats to qualify, he would have won the Eastern League's batting title by 30 points, while also leading it in on-base percentage and slugging by massive margins.

Now, when ranking prospects, simply going by the numbers is a fool's choice. Knowing what a player is doing is one thing, but knowing how that player is doing it is just as vital. Scouts are great people to talk to, often giving you in-depth breakdowns on every aspect of a player's game. Those were a little harder to come by on Wieters following his season; one scout presented with the name simply laughed, stating, "What can I say? The guy is just a stud." Even beyond the simple dominance reflected in the stats, that's what he is on a scouting level as well. We're talking about a massive physical specimen who combines plus power from both sides of the plate, the strike-zone discipline of a sharp-eyed veteran, above-average defensive skills behind the plate, and a cannon for an arm, proven by the 96 mph fastballs he'd throw during his days when he did double duty as Georgia Tech's closer in college.

So we know he's great, but work done by our team of researchers and statisticians during the offseason suggests that he might just be historic. One essential measurement here at Baseball Prospectus is Clay Davenport's Equivalent Average (abbreviated as EqA),s a single figure that measures total offense and adjusts for a number of factors, including the league's offensive environment, park factors, and team pitching, while providing further balances to allow for accurate comparisons across different eras.

Applying these complex formulas to Wieters' minor league season gives him a .301 EqA for his High-A stint and a .349 mark at Double-A. EqA is scaled like batting average, so those are good numbers to be sure, but further research reveals that those are the highest marks achieved in both leagues in the last 40 years, which is as far back as our data goes. Matt Wieters wasn't just great last year, he put together one of the best single seasons in modern minor league history.

If that isn't an enthusiastic-enough endorsement, then there's PECOTA, our projection system, and the most accurate one in the business. PECOTA is a system that does what it does based on comparisons-finding similar players with similar physical tools and baseball skill sets. According to PECOTA, with a full slate of at-bats, Wieters should hit .311 with a .395 on-base percentage and a .544 slugging mark this year. That's good for a .319 EqA. How good is that? Historically great, because it would easily be the highest mark of any catcher in 2009, and only 17 catchers have exceeded that mark in the history of baseball.


2009's Top PECOTA-projected Catchers
Rk  Player         Team       EqA
 1. Matt Wieters   Orioles   .319
 2. Brian McCann   Braves    .299
 3. Joe Mauer      Twins     .298
 4. Geovany Soto   Cubs      .297
 5. Russell Martin Dodgers   .291
 6. Chris Iannetta Rockies   .291
 7. Mike Napoli    Angels    .289
 8. Jeff Clement   Mariners  .280
 9. Ryan Doumit    Pirates   .275
10. Miguel Montero D'backs   .273

Top Five Catcher Seasons, All-time
Rk Player        Year  EqA  MVP Voting
1. Mike Piazza   1997 .365     2
2. Mike Piazza   1995 .346     4
3. Johnny Bench  1972 .342     1
4. Mike Piazza   1996 .342     2
5. Javy Lopez    2003 .338     5

According to PECOTA, the most similar player in baseball history to Wieters is Mark Teixeira, another switch-hitter with plenty of power and patience, as well as the ability to hit for a high average. That combination of skills was worth eight years and $180 million on the open market this offseason; if Wieters lives up to expectations, one can only shudder at the thought of what his value might be on the market as a Teixeira clone with above-average defensive skills at catcher. No matter what the number, it certainly adds up to another big payday down the road for a Scott Boras client.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Matt Wieters

51 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Brian Kopec

But what about Daniel Moskos?? Pirates fans WANT TO KNOW ABOUT DANIEL MOSKOS! He must be even better, since we drafted him right before Weiters, right? RIGHT???


Just shoot me now.

Jan 30, 2009 08:37 AM
rating: 7
 
Androo

Will a Boras client ever extend early? If they could get him signed to a Longoria style deal, I'd be thrilled.

Jan 30, 2009 08:43 AM
rating: 0
 
Rowen Bell

Nice article, Kevin. It's provocative to suggest that a player without any MLB experience is likely to be the best player at his position in 2009. Not that I'm disagreeing...

I'm reminded of the controversy 15 years or so ago, when the Stats Major League Handbook projections inadvertently implied that an unproven rookie named Jeff Bagwell would win the NL batting title. Bagwell was an astounding success as a rookie, and that seriously helped the stathead cause.

Wieters in 2009 is a similar story. If he is indeed a star from day one, then that's a huge boon to sabermetrics. On the other hand, were he to struggle, it would be ammunition for those traditionally-minded pundits who poo-poo the likes of PECOTA. As such, I think everyone in the BP community has a vested interest in rooting for Matt Wieters this year, regardless of their normal affiliation. (I'm a Jays fan, for crying out loud, so the last thing I need is for the O's to suddenly show signs of life!)

Jan 30, 2009 08:46 AM
rating: 2
 
Schere

It would be a good thing, but bear in mind the regular scouts think he's a great player, too. There's no dissent that I've seen.

Jan 30, 2009 09:41 AM
rating: 0
 
Rowen Bell

The regular scouts think he's a great prospect. However, I don't think the scouting community would be willing to go out an limb and say he may the best catcher in baseball as a rookie.

Jan 30, 2009 10:30 AM
rating: 0
 
ephinz

Very similar thoughts. If Wieters struggles, he will be used to debase statheads. The stathead equivalent of An Inconvienent Truth.

Jan 30, 2009 09:51 AM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

Wieters is pretty much universally thought to be the best baseball player never to see the majors by statheads, scouts and advertisers (MLB.com). I don't see this reducing the stathead credibility much.

Jan 30, 2009 11:15 AM
rating: 0
 
chuckmotl

Really Rowen? You don't want to see Wieters become the best? You sure about that?

Jan 30, 2009 11:12 AM
rating: -1
 
SaberTJ

Can't wait to watch this kid play.

Jan 30, 2009 08:48 AM
rating: 0
 
hrcoll99

Hey Kevin, how come when you go to Wieters PECOTA page they have him pegged at a .250 EqA with 553 PA's in 09? Do you have updated PECOTA projections that BP is not sharing with all its paying customers?

Jan 30, 2009 08:52 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

Indeed I do. We get all of the PECOTA stuff done for the book, which is of course being printed as we speak. I had to dig through a lot of messy data to get you this, and our tech team has begun the processing of cleaning it all up for our subscribers and you should see the weighted means spreadsheet very soon.

Jan 30, 2009 09:17 AM
 
jrmayne

"Very soon"? If like, "within a week," is "very soon," I have a Woo-hoo for them. If the Scoresheet values are coming very soon, I have a triple woo-hoo. Pecota Day is one of the best days of the year.

--JRM

Jan 30, 2009 13:37 PM
rating: 1
 
mikekim21

That page hasn't been updated since last year.

Jan 31, 2009 03:22 AM
rating: 0
 
jgergeni

hrcoll99, I believe these are the new PECOTA projections. They are not yet on the website.

Jan 30, 2009 09:00 AM
rating: 0
 
Peter Hood

Weiterssounds like the 2nd coming of Johnny Bench. i can remember the hoopla that surrounded Bench's introduction to MLB. The WOWs were as much for his catching abilities as for his hitting. Piazza always seemed one-dimensional to me - great hitter but average or worse behind the plate. Weiters sounds much more like Bench than Piazza.

Jan 30, 2009 09:26 AM
rating: 0
 
Schere

Piazza wasn't as bad as people think or thought. Throwing is not the only thing a catcher does back there.

Jan 30, 2009 09:43 AM
rating: 2
 
Brian Kopec

Who would you rather have for your franchise? Matt Weiters or Justin Upton?

Jan 30, 2009 10:19 AM
rating: 0
 
M.A.D.

Your comparison left off that Mark Teixeira also went to Georgia Tech.

Jan 30, 2009 10:30 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

There's a few Georgia Tech connections here as well. Don't forget that Jason Varitek, considered by some as the best catcher in college baseball history was a Tech guy.

Jan 30, 2009 10:32 AM
 
dianagram

I'm sure Boras is already envisioning Wieters in Yankee pinstripes (and a fistful of dollars) come 2015.

Jan 30, 2009 10:30 AM
rating: 0
 
sephrath

The o's arent the rays or royals, they have money to spend if they want to.

Jan 30, 2009 14:45 PM
rating: 0
 
thurrikane

Shame the O's probably won't be able to give him a Longoria type deal.

Jan 30, 2009 10:39 AM
rating: 0
 
fideaux

Odd not to see Posada on the "2009's Top PECOTA-projected Catchers" list.

Jan 30, 2009 10:39 AM
rating: 0
 
Mike Fast

Yes, Posada should definitely be in there. CHONE says .266/.363/.434 for Posada and Oliver says .288/.380/.480.

Jan 30, 2009 11:03 AM
rating: 0
 
chuckmotl

You're joking about Posada, right? Didn't his arm fall off and they reattached it using fishing line?

Jan 30, 2009 11:18 AM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

"...then there's PECOTA, our projection system, and the most accurate one in the business."

A statement like this is why sabrmetrics would take it on the chin if Wieters doesn't meet PECOTA's expectations. PECOTA is a very useful analytical and predictive tool in many respects; but it's not even close to being the best projection system for a particular season.

Jan 30, 2009 10:58 AM
rating: 0
 
Mike Fast

Why not? What is the best?

Everything I've read indicates that PECOTA is right up there in the group with the best. Some fare a little better by one measure and some a little better by another, but all the systems that use at least three years of historical data and some regression to the mean end up in basically the same accuracy basket.

Jan 30, 2009 11:06 AM
rating: 1
 
eighteen

"right up there" is not the same as "most accurate."

I won't advertise PECOTA's competitors on BP's website. Suffice to say over the past 15 years I've used dozens of projection systems. The 3 I currently use have, for the past 3 years, each been better predictors of player performance for those seasons than PECOTA.

But that said, does it really mean anything? You make a good point that what appears to be a superior predictive system could simply be a beneficiary of luck and/or statistical noise that will wash out over time; and I doubt 3 years is sufficient time for that to happen.

So I'll change my post's wording slightly: There is no evidence that PECOTA, for all its other virtues, is the "best" predictor of player performance for a particular season; and claiming that it is could ultimately do a great disservice to the stathead cause.

Jan 30, 2009 11:44 AM
rating: 0
 
Ben Solow

I seem to recall Nate posting a few measures of accuracy in each of the past two offseasons (I haven't been subscribing to BP past then). I think he compared the RMSE of maybe 6 or 7 projection systems (including CHONE) for both pitchers and hitters, and PECOTA is consistently one of the best.

Now, there are certainly other systems to test against, and it would help BP's credibility some if Nate would make all of the data from past projections available publicly (especially given that the value from them being proprietary is now basically zero), but according to the numbers he's reported, it seems that PECOTA is the most consistently accurate system.

Jan 30, 2009 16:16 PM
rating: 0
 
Nick J

One of the problems with the comparisons of projections systems that I've seen is that they're usually evaluated on a single rate stat, say, OPS and ERA. Which is fine if what you're trying to measure is how accurately the systems project rates. But for fantasy players, we need those other stats, R, SB, RBI, Wins, Saves, etc. And those are of course dependent on playing time and role. Those things are understandably harder to predict, but they are very important to some of us.

Feb 01, 2009 20:28 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Kopec

I'm not so sure Pecota would take one on the chin, unless you can find at least a handful of scouts who think Weiters is gonna disappoint.

Jan 30, 2009 12:37 PM
rating: 0
 
baserip4

My man-crush on Matt Wieters has reached unhealthy proportions.

Jan 30, 2009 11:00 AM
rating: 1
 
Mike Fast

I'm not sure I buy the assertion that PECOTA is the most accurate projection system in this business. If you'd said that it's as accurate as any of the others, then sure.

Sean Smith's CHONE, which has been shown to be just as good at projecting hitters as PECOTA, has Wieters projected at .274/.352/.439, compared to Mauer at .314/.410/.452, McCann at .297/.368/.503, and Sota at .279/.363/.474.

The new promising kid on the block in the projections world, Brian Cartwright's Oliver, has Wieters projected at .294/.373/.487, Mauer at .308/.377/.435, McCann at .285/.339/.491, and Soto at .270/.338/.443.

So Wieters is clearly considered a bright star in the sabermetric world, but CHONE is not as high on him as PECOTA and Oliver.

Jan 30, 2009 11:00 AM
rating: 0
 
penski
(286)

And from The Bill James Handbook:

Wieters 311/407/526 in 546 PA
McCann 301/370/525 in 571 PA
Mauer 323/412/463 in 598 PA
Soto 293/370/499 in 577 PA

Jan 30, 2009 12:31 PM
rating: 0
 
devine

Probably v. skeptical about playing time for Posada.

Jan 30, 2009 11:05 AM
rating: 0
 
Aaron/YYZ

So PECOTA doesn't see any issues if he jumps direct from AA to the Majors? No Alex Gordon type of debut?

For comparison, I wonder what Gordon's projection was two(?) years ago.

Jan 30, 2009 11:07 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Dave Metz
BP staff

As I recall Aaron, Gordon's projection was in the realm of 280/360/520. And, in fact, it was actually 282/364/511.

That's really good, granted, but that was only at third, not catcher. And 60 points of OPS is nothing to sneeze at when you're reaching the upper echelon.

Jan 30, 2009 11:14 AM
 
nmhesketh

What is PECOTA projecting Wieters at in terms of PA's?

Jan 30, 2009 11:08 AM
rating: 0
 
nationalcoholic

Huge numbers! He's projected to lead all catches in PA and AB. The top three are:
Wieters: 649 PA, 560 AB
Mauer: 612 PA, 531 AB
Martin: 579 PA, 499 AB

Awfully high for a catcher, let alone who might start the year in the minors. No catcher reached 560 AB last year, and only Victor Martinez did in 2007 (562).

Feb 03, 2009 07:43 AM
rating: 0
 
cloakedarbiter

If Wieters were available, how would you guys project him in a fantasy draft?

Jan 30, 2009 13:34 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

I've played dynasty league roto for six years, and I've never seen a player so valuable that's never played a game. The other day in one league, an owner traded Tex for him STRAIGHT UP.

Jan 30, 2009 14:14 PM
rating: 0
 
whydidnt

Now you tell me he's going to be historic. I dealt him in my AL keeper league last July for Sabathia, Burnett and Thames. Can't keep Sabathia this year because of his stop in Milwaukee, so I end up with Burnett for Weiters, and still missed out on the title by a few strikeouts.

I knew at the time I would regret it down the line, but like many others before me, felt like you only get so many shots at the title, so I went for it. If only I had known...

Jan 30, 2009 14:41 PM
rating: 0
 
eeyore
(885)

I got him 14 months ago for Andrew Miller and Kaz Matsui.

Feb 04, 2009 00:40 AM
rating: 0
 
Ben L

We dont know anything yet. I love how we get our panties all in a wad every time, just like Bruce last year. Its just unreasonable to expect stardom right from the beginning. It only happens to a handful of players and even then its subject to various levels of interpretation.

Jan 30, 2009 16:56 PM
rating: 0
 
philly

Last year the prospect projection that had some buzz was the much younger Jay Bruce at 265/332/503.

Bruce did fly thru the minors and get a decnt number of MLB PAs and hit 254/314/453.

I don't think that's actually too bad, but it is ~70 ops points below the optimistic PECOTA.

I'd sooner bet on Weiters missing his PECOTA projection by 70 pts than his actual one.

And while I have the 08 spreadhseet open let me look at Longoria who is more age similar to Weiters.

PECOTA: 270/344/482
Actual: 272/343/531

Missed on him by ~50 pts, but in the opposite direction.

So toungue firmly in cheek, I guarantee that Wieters will hit either within -70 to +50 pts of his projection.

Jan 30, 2009 21:20 PM
rating: 0
 
TGisriel

The Orioles apparently plan to start Wieters this season in AAA, a level he has not yet reached, and bring him up later (like Longoria last year). Is this a prudent gradual promotion of a developing star? Is it roster manipulation to delay the onset of arbitration and free agency? Is it stupid? Will the Orioles consider starting him on Opening Day if he has an excellent spring?

It's amazing how many questions arise regarding the handling of a stud prospect.

Jan 31, 2009 11:55 AM
rating: 0
 
West21

All this Weiters hype reminds me of Alex Gordon.....

Feb 01, 2009 23:53 PM
rating: 0
 
rapltp1

I think it's obvious that Wieters is the best catcher on the planet right now. The question I'm struggling with is, when will he cure cancer? Before, or after the end of his rookie season?

(My guess is before)

Feb 02, 2009 06:19 AM
rating: 0
 
joheimburger

This is clearly optimistic and forward looking but:

barring an absurd statistical season from another AL position player, the James/PECOTA projections + strong defense (as Wieters' has been advertised) would put Wieters in strong MVP consideration as a rookie (at least in the stats community - perhaps the BBWAA would catch on once the 4-letter hype machine heats up). Wow.

Feb 02, 2009 08:46 AM
rating: 0
 
coachadams5

Just curious - do the predictive methods including PECOTA consider the league and/or Division in which a player competes? He plays in the toughest in all of baseball and the pitching he will face more often than any other is TB, BOS, TOR and NY: # 1, 2, 4 and 8 with a bullet in ERA last year in the league. If the kid was coming up on another team or the inferior league, I'd say these projections are great. In the AL East however, I'd take all of these with a huge grain of salt. My opinion is if he meets PECOTA projections in the 2009 AL East, get his HOF plaque ready.

Feb 03, 2009 07:57 AM
rating: 0
 
Leitch

I wonder what his 90% looks like if that's his weighted mean

Feb 03, 2009 10:46 AM
rating: 0
 
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